Leaders can make or break your company during a crisis. The pandemic has exposed the remarkable difference between a true leader and a mediocre one. It is during crises when some leaders stand out and let their companies rise and thrive despite the challenges; while other leaders falter and let their companies sink with them.
We asked Connie Kalagayan, our resource person on crisis communication and leadership, for some lessons on how leaders could ensure that they rise to the occasion.
Here are her thoughts and advice:
The biggest mistake of leaders during this pandemic is the failure to find a suitable and appropriate way to resolve the crisis. This happens when leaders refuse to see the big picture. They rely on myopic knowledge, decide on a whim and blame others when the plans fail. By not communicating properly, they inflame or provoke more issues or problems that may affect the present or the future of the company. Instead they should practice:
Having empathy, or hand holding
Many experts have said that “vision” is the most important skill of a leader. However, during a crisis, the most overlooked leadership skill is ‘holding.’ Our brain is wired for the “flight or fight response.”
It will always process a crisis as a threat no matter how small or big the problem is. Like a mother’s soothing voice and warm embrace, a leader who is able to hold together his/her employees, stakeholders and the company as a whole through the use of genuine empathy and concern will be able to survive this crisis.
A good leader should be able to know and understand the fears, worries, concerns and needs of all stakeholders. For instance, ask for the wish list of your employees for their “work from home’ situation. Find out about their struggles, and ask what the company can do to make their work more efficient. Provide transportation services for those who have to report for work, or send cakes on their birthdays. Procure vaccines for their inoculation and include their families, if you have the budget. By doing so, you are improving their mental health and easing their anxiety. For your customers on the other hand, engage and find out their new needs and wants. Be lenient with payments or offer a better way of paying their bills. When you reach out to your community through your CSR (corporate social responsibility) programs, always include your stakeholders as recipients of your advocacies. A leader who knows how to “hand-hold” and show empathy will be rewarded with stakeholders who will rally around your vision and make things happen for your company to thrive and survive in this unprecedented time.
Another lesson is the importance of how a crisis leader is able to communicate frankly, sensitively and transparently.
A good leader should be honest with all stakeholders. Even if you aim to inspire, this is not the time to sugarcoat facts. This is the moment when a leader has to declare the true state of the company, and share what the measures and plans are to mitigate the problem.
He/she should listen to suggestions and be open to different points of view. The leader should rely on the expertise of people who have experience on the field or on the matter.
The final lesson is to be agile and decisive. Act quickly and modify plans and strategies as the crisis develops. Change directions depending on the current circumstances.
We should note that there are also tough lessons on how not to lead during a crisis. These include the failure to plan, the failure to be visible, present and attentive, failure to listen to the advice of experts, failure to pivot and failure to understand the problem, of not being able to evaluate what went wrong and learning from these mistakes.